Councillor Richard Leese
Excerpts from the Interview with Eyewitness in Manchester, Friday 10 July 1998

What do you like best about Manchester?

I like that there are lots of "villagey" communities around the city. I quite like Crumpsall, it's got good amenities, bits have become a bit run down, and we need to do something about that, but it's a traditional Manchester community with grandparents, parents, and children, and it's a good place to live. The city centre is wonderful, I like going round the back streets around the back of King Street, those wonderful buildings & so on.

I like the cafe bar culture, though my preference is still for the more traditional sorts of pub that you'll find around the City Centre.

If I've got a bit of time, I like to walk around the canal basins. In the middle of the city centre you can get away from the hubbub and so-on, and I enjoy that.

Cities are principally about people, and what I like best about Manchester is the people.

Is there anything about Manchester that could be improved?

Lots can be improved. What's my agenda? Unemployment, health, education standards, housing quality, in some places, simply the need to replace housing, quality of the physical environment, lots of things, it's a tremendous city, but there's lots that can be improved.

Is there any one way that improvement could be brought about?

I think the key is that there isn't one way to regenerate. There are lots of things that go to make a healthy neighbourhood, and if you don't tackle all of them then you don't bring about the sort of improvements that we need. So if there is a key, it's that we've got to do everything.

Can you name a few things that you would need to do to improve a neighbourhood?

Dealing rapidly with empty property, getting schools to raise the aspirations of young people, getting young unemployed people using New Deal, or whatever is there, into jobs, into training. Community capacity building, supporting local people, who by and large do want to have pride in their area to be able to take responsibilty for what's going on, supporting local businesses, making sure they survive and develop, and so on.

Do you use the Internet?

This office uses it, we use it to download government consultation papers, research political speeches, or policy positions. One of the more odd ways we used it was the time when we had motion before Council suggesting we twin with a place called Manchester in Massachussetts. We visited their website and found that it's a fishing village of 5000 people. If there is information we want, then the Internet is now quite often the first place we go to.

What were you doing and where were you when bomb exploded?

I was in the Town Hall, and the building shook. We were having a Labour Party meeting, and we were doing a post mortem of the local election results, because it was only four or five weeks after. About 5 minutes before the bomb went off - I'd only been leader of the Council for about 5 weeks then - one of our members turned and said "You're the new leader of the Council, you need to do something to raise your profile", and then five minutes later, the bomb went off. I don't think that's what she had in mind!

And what were your feelings after the event, later on in the day when you saw the devastation.

Like a lot of other people it was shock, and seeing the degree of the devastation reinforced that shock. The following Monday morning, I can remember very clearly I was down at the other end of Corporation Street, doing tv interviews, as people were trying to get into to work. Despite all the disruption, the degree of co-operation of people was phenomenal. Nobody complained. It was just a wonderful spirit of "whatever we need to do to help the process, we'll do, and we're not going to do anything to make life even more difficult"

Manchester has made an impressive recovery. What are your thoughts on that and why do you think the recovery has been so successful?

First is I think Manchester people, they went through a bit of a down period in the eighties, but the underlying attitude of Manchester people is a tremendous atttude of confidence, positiveness and "We can make things happen". I think that's the major factor about why we've been able to do such a wonderful job in the rebuilding. You can go into the strength of the partnerships, the support we've got from Governments, the skills of a lot of Council officers, but I don't think that would have been any use if there hadn't been that postitive "Can do" attitude in the first place

Have you got any views on the Trafford Centre?

I'm completely against out-of-town shopping centres in general, I don't think it should have been allowed to have been built, but it is now a reality, and will open. I hope we're begining to see a trend of people rejecting out-of-town centres, and wanting to come into traditional town centres. I don't think it will damage Manchester city centre, I think in the short term it will damage other currently vibrant local shopping centres. There will be some new jobs, but there will be a lot of job substitution. It's also the loss of what could have been one of the best industrial sites in the conurbation. It's a very poor usage for a very good site, and it will cause traffic chaos.

What about the Second Runway?

That, in contrast is absolutely brilliant news not just for Manchester but for the whole region, because the airport is a prime economic generator. The Second Runway guarantees that it will be able to grow in that role. It's not even the North West of England, the whole of England north of Brimingham will be able to benefit from that.

What would you say to the people that protested, and the residents of Mobberley?

Well, as for the residents of Mobberley, most of them moved there when there was an airport. In terms of noise disturbance, airports do cause that, however the airport is very determined to improve the number of modern jets that are quieter and cause less disturbance. There are swings and roundabouts: the Second Runway will reduce disturbance for a lot of people as well. The airport has committed an huge amount of resources to minimise the environmental damage that is done - and it would be stupid to pretend that there isn't environmental damage. But in other areas, they are going to increase the number of wetland habitats, and the amount of woodland and so on. As for the people of Mobberley, clearly it is "Nimby"-ism most of them chose to live next door to an airport. Most of the people of Mobberley make a very good living out of the economic success of Manchester, and I think to try and deny those benefits to other people is out of order.

What about road development?

I don't think we need a lot of road development any more. As for ring roads, whether the M60 or inner relief routes, once you've got three quarters the way round, then you do need to finish it, so I think the M60 ring needs to be completed. I'm not sure that if we were starting from scratch now, that I'd want it started.

What's your vision of Manchester for the future?

When you say "vision" there's always a danger of getting into glib statements. I think what I'd like is a healthy city, certainly a wealthy city, but one where all the citizens share in that health and wealth.

What are your views on the borders of Manchester?

I think that we ought to recognise the real boundaries of Manchester which are actually greater than the existing Greater Manchester boundaries. This area includes places like Wilmslow and Glossop and so on. I'd like to see a Manchester Assembly that covers all of that area but that only deals with economic development and transport, the big things that need to be covered on a conurbation-wide basis, which would still allow all the local districts within the conurbation to have their own automony for education and social services and so on.

What about the problem of the Council Tax base?

There are a number of ways we need to address that. If the costs of being a regional centre were met on a Greater Manchester basis, rather than the situation at the moment, where the poorest people within the conurbation are having to meet those costs, I think that would help those problems. And the other thing is of course, if we get a wealthy population in Manchester then the value of property will rise and we will solve the council tax base problem through that route. And if you take the idea of a Manchester Assembly for those strategic services, it might be that some of the old townships that make up the conurbation - the Cheadle's and the Altrincham's, and so on - could actually go back to providing local services themselves.

Interview by Aidan O'Rourke, Eyewitness in Manchester